SPOKANE, Wash. — It's a striking statistic out of a new study – the number of homeless students in Spokane has doubled between 2012 and 2017.
Taking a closer look at those numbers released by The Seattle Times, the dramatic increase comes primarily out of school districts in rural areas.
Each year, Washington state school districts report to the state the number of identified homeless students in the district, which is defined as those living "doubled up" with relatives or friends, living in motels or transitional shelters.
From 2012 to 2017, Spokane Public Schools saw an overall decrease in homeless students. But districts in rural areas of Spokane saw the largest increases.
Data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction revealed that the East Valley School District had the highest increase in homeless students in the area (458 percent). Deer Park had the second highest increase (289 percent), followed by the West Valley (149 percent) and the Riverside (145 percent) school districts.
The Spokane district attributes part of this decrease to its "check and connect program." The program connects students with support for housing, homework and transportation before they get too far down the road of homelessness.
Director of Special Programs Brett Dodd said that program started implementing the plan four years ago under its Homeless Education and Resource Team, known as "HEART".
West, East and Central Valley implemented the HEART program in their respective districts as well.
So why the difference in numbers? Dodd said those districts might not have as much access to resources.
Greg Swartz with the Deer Park School district said the increase could be attributed to the district more effectively identifying homeless students. He said while there might be more services in the Deer Park area now, there is still a lack of affordable housing.
Deer Park received an extended grant to fund a social worker position through Priority Spokane. Swartz said the district social worker will help reduce the staggering number of homeless students by providing support and resources for the students and their families.